I can’t tell you how many questions I’ve had over the last week about bulbs. The most prevalent one is, “When can I plant my bulbs?”. The next is, “If I can’t plant them yet, how do I store them?”
Maybe we should start by defining a “bulb”. The University of Illinois Extension Service defines it this way: “The definition of a bulb is any plant that stores its complete life cycle in an underground storage structure.” I have made the link above, because it defines and explains a “bulb” pretty thoroughly!
For our purposes here today, I will only discuss a “true” bulb, like a tulip, daffodil, crocus, etc. Rhizomes, corms and tubers are also considered “bulbs”, but we will not discuss them today.
Here is a drawing of a true bulb that I have taken from that University of Illinois Extension Service web site. It’s a good description of what we are talking about. The definition of “tunicate” bulb is one that has a paper like sheath that helps protect it.
As you can see, the leaves, the flower bud, the roots, and even the babies (lateral bulblets) are all there…right in that one structure, as noted in the definition!
It also does a good job of showing you what’s up and what’s down! The pointy end is the top and the flat end is the bottom. It isn’t always that the roots are visible yet, but have no fear, they will appear!
Miraculously, if you should happen to plant the bulb upside down, given a few years, it will actually right itself. That’s hard work, so try to avoid doing that to your bulbs. You want it’s energy to go into the blooms!!!
When you buy bulbs, you want to look for ones without deep cuts in the tunic. Those cuts would indicate some pretty severe injury that might impact the growth of the bulb. It might even produce rot, meaning that your bulb wouldn’t survive in the ground. Look for a healthy bulb…think of an onion in the grocery store. I’m sure, like me, you look for onions without soft spots, discoloration and scars. Do the same with the purchase of bulbs.
Usually nurseries don’t offer bulbs for sale until it’s time for planting, so get them in the ground as soon after you purchase them as possible. If that’s not possible, store them in the package in which they arrived, or in a paper bag (that breathes), in a cool, dry environment. Something to remember here is that squirrels, rats, and mice LOVE chomping on bulbs (except for daffodils which they seem to dislike). If you “mail order” bulbs, they will always arrive at the proper planting time.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, autumn is warmer than in many areas of the country. That kind of confuses the element of the timing of planting bulbs. Where there’s a hard frost, it’s easy, bulbs can be planted right up until you can’t get a shovel into the ground because it’s too hard to dig! So, how do we handle that here in the PNW?
Remember that when the bulbs go into the ground, they need to establish some growth of those roots. They need some warmth for that…BUT, you don’t want to plant them when it’s so warm that the leaves will sprout. Then they may try to bloom in the fall and come spring, when you want to see them…they will already have done their thing. Sorry, no bloom! So, your timing should be to plant before threat of a hard frost (when temperatures drop into the 20’s and stay there for a couple of hours), but after any hot weather, which might encourage a growth spurt. For us, here at Horizon House in downtown Seattle, Washington, that would be about now. You can hold off a bit if you’d like, but when you’ve got an hour or two free, any time now will be OK.
I think I’ve answered the most pressing questions about bulbs.